lThis is the first posting of the College Basketball featuring CAA Men's Basketball Blog. This may be the only blog site dedicated to in depth analysis of the CAA Men's Basketball conference as well as college basketball in general.
The CAA is comprised of 12 teams, two new added this year; Northeastern and Georgia State, which are now the two farthest points of the conference, spanning the conference now from Boston to Georgia. Last year, Old Dominion won the regular season title and the post season conference tournament, before giving Final Four Michigan State all it could handle in a first round loss. The conference also had three NIT teams (VCU, Hofstra and Drexel).
This season, there is talk of a potential multiple team bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the late 80's when Richmond and Navy both made the tournament. Already many of the CAA teams have made solid impressions to basketball experts around the country. Old Dominion has impressed teams with a 5-1 start, including wins over Georgia and East Carolina as well as a tough 3 point loss to perennial Big Ten power Wisconsin. Drexel was impressive in giving Duke and UCLA all they could handle in the post season NIT tournament before losing another three games in a row to tough non conference teams Penn, St Joseph’s and LaSalle (don’t laugh, LaSalle is very much improved). UNC Wilmington is off to a 6-1 start including winning the BCA tournament in Wyoming which included a win over host Wyoming. Finally George Mason crushed UC Irvine (which defeated Stanford in Stanford) and took Wake Forest into overtime at Wake Forest.
Old Dominion is again the favorite to win the conference with all of its starters returning including Conference Player of the Year, Alex Loughton, sharpshooter Isiah Hunter and power forward Arnaud Dahi. The team can go nine to ten players deep with players such as Valdus Vasylius and has a great deal of experience in big games. They were ahead of Michigan State at halftime by five before losing by eight in the first round of the NCAA tournament this year. Key player for Old Dominion is seven foot three Sam Harris. Harris’ continued development is integral to Old Dominion having a chance in not only making the NCAA tournament but actually winning a couple of games in the tournament. They have the talent to do so..
Hofstra returns its entire starting five players from the beginning of last season including all CAA first team player Loren Stokes and CAA freshman of the year Antoine Agudio. Starting point guard Carlos Rivera has lost 15 pounds and looks much quicker in the games so far this year. The three keys for Hofstra will be foul shooting (Hofstra is one of the weaker teams in the CAA as far as free throw percentage), keeping center Adrian Uter out of foul trouble, and hoping that their five freshman coming off the bench will adapt quickly to the CAA kind of play. Freshman Greg “Playstation” Johnson looks like a keeper but fellow freshmen power forwards Chris Gadley and Arminis Urbutis must give quality time off the bench for Hofstra to contend.
George Mason returns its big three in six foot 8 300 pound mammoth center Jai Lewis and guards Tony Skinn and Lamar Butler. George Mason can light it up but can also give it up. They were at the bottom of the CAA last year in scoring defense which led them to a disappointing sixth place finish in the conference. George Mason must play better defense if they want to contend for the conference title. An 81-51 win over Georgia State at Georgia State may be an indicator of things to come.
Veteran top echelon Virginia Commonwealth returns senior forward Nick George along with Jesse Pellot-Rosa, and BJ Walker to give VCU a solid threesome. VCU is very athletic, plays aggressive defense and has one of the best home court advantages in the Siegel Center on the VCU campus. However, the loss of Michael Doles to graduation leaves VCU without a consistent scoring threat and VCU must cut down on the number of turnovers they have had at the start of the season. Also VCU must shoot much more consistently from the field which has been an Achilles heel in the past.
Newcomer Northeastern boasts sharpshooter Jose Juan Barea along with three point threat Aaron Davis and shot blocker Shawn James. Northeastern went 21-10 in the America East last year including a first round loss in the NIT. Northeastern though is facing a much more balanced conference than they were used to in America East. Northeastern barely edged past perennial lower echelon James Madison last night. Northeastern likes to run up and down the court and have the score in the eighties. Problem is they can give up points as well. In their last four games, Northeastern has given up 80 points or more. Northeastern must play better defense against teams like Old Dominion and George Mason who have no problem scoring points.
UNC Wilmington returns John Goldsberry for what seems to be his tenth year in the conference. Didn’t he play with Brett Blizzard when Blizzard was a freshman! Just kidding, but it does seem like the six foot three senior has been there forever. UNC Wilmington uses a balanced attack with Goldsberry, Beckham Wyrick, TJ Carter, and Mitch Laue. Wilmington will play nine players a game, play solid defense and keep turnovers to a minimum. Wilmington must keep the score in the sixties to win however. They do not have the scoring threats that other teams in the conference possess.
Drexel lost three key starters from last year’s NIT team. So far this year Drexel has used a seven man rotation, with point guard Bashir Mason, shooting guard Dominick Mejia, , small forward Kennell Sanchez, forward Frank Elegar and shot blocker Chaz Crawford leading the way. Drexel is very athletic and plays an aggressive man to man defense. This leads to impressive showings such as their games against Duke and UCLA. However, they are very erratic and very undisciplined at times which led to their blowing a late game lead against UCLA. Drexel needs to improve their shooting from guards Mejia and Mason if they wish to contend in the CAA.
James Madison has shown signs of improvement with wins over Appalachian State (who defeated VCU in the beginning of the year) and competitive games against Georgetown (lost by seven) and Northeastern (lost by three). Ray Barbosa leads an athletic team that may be the team CAA powers will least likely want to face during the season. Look for quality play from Jomo Belfor and Juwann James. This may be the most improved team in the CAA this year.
Newcomer Georgia State is a very inconsistent team. In one game, they waxed Delaware by 27 at home. Then against their next conference foe, George Mason, Georgia State loses by 30. Georgia State gets balanced scoring, with four players in double figures and two others averaging more than nine points a game. Guards Malcolm Manier and Boyd Copeland lead a very senior laden team that may be the biggest wildcard in the conference. No one is sure what to expect from the Panthers.
Towson looks to improve with senior star Lawrence Hamm and freshman sensation Tim Crossin. However Towson looks very thin depth wise with only six players getting play time in their first five games. Coach Pat Kennedy must somehow keep his team fresh in rugged CAA play.
Delaware looks to be in for a long year. Outside of Harding Nana, Delaware has no consistent scoring threat. Calvin Cannon and Adrian Washington must help if Delaware wants to remain competitive. So far, double digit losses to Georgia State and Hofstra do not bode well for the Fighting Blue Hens.
William and Mary must hope that enigmatic Cory Cofield and freshman sensation Calvin Baker can help the Tribe improve on their cellar dweller status in the CAA. However, a thirty one point loss at Towson is not a sign of improvement that William and Mary fans were looking for.
Conference Tournament Final - Old Dominion over Hofstra.
All CAA - Alex Loughton, Loren Stokes, Jose Juan Barea, Harding Nana, Tony Skinn
Conference Player of the Year - Alex Loughton